Ten Days Later…
Rarity tapped her hoof impatiently.
The unicorn was seated in a plush chair in the waiting room of Ponyville's local spa. The bright colours of the room cast a warming and uplifting mood and there were faint smells of soaps, herbs and flowers wafting in from the interior.
It was Thursday, which meant that Rarity and Fluttershy were meant to meet at the spa for their weekly get together. It had been a long-standing tradition that had lasted almost as long as the two had known each other. Since their first visit to the spa, they had not missed a single appointment. It was a special time for the two friends to talk and enjoy each other's company.
The previous week had been the first time that they had missed the appointment. The two had spent Monday at the Princess' funeral and hadn't been in any sort of mood to visit the spa when Thursday came. Instead of merely going on Friday, the two had decided to wait until next week.
While this lapse in spa treatment had been completely justified and understandable, one week later saw Rarity feeling absolutely filthy. Sure, to the outside observer she was an image of immaculate beauty, as always. However, in the white unicorn's mind, she was as good as covered in thick tar. She felt awful and had been looking forward to this for days now.
And now Fluttershy was late.
The pair's appointment had scheduled for 2:30pm, and it was now approaching three o'clock. Luckily, the sisters who ran the spa were good friends of Rarity and were quite understanding and flexible. They were willing to wait for Fluttershy, although Rarity could see that their patience was slowly fading.
Finally, Rarity caught a glimpse of yellow in the doorway and looked up to see Fluttershy slowly entering. "There you are, darling! Where have you been?" she said, standing up.
Fluttershy hid herself behind her mane. "Um, I'm sorry Rarity…I didn't mean to be late, I was just…" she trailed off.
"It doesn't matter," Rarity replied before calling out, "Aloe!! She's here! We're ready!"
A pink pony with a tied-back blue mane stuck her head out from behind the door leading into the spa. Smiling, she held open the door and gestured for the two to enter.
Many minutes later and the two found themselves in the mud baths, nearly halfway through their treatments. Rarity sat in one tub while Fluttershy sat in the adjacent one.
"It was then that I realized what I fool I had been. Rubies?! I must have had a poor sleep the previous night. It was a lot of work to remove them all and even more work to come up with a suitable replacement, but I got it all done in time." Rarity sighed. "It's hard work, but I simply adore it."
Rarity glanced over to Fluttershy, who was hanging her head and staring intently at the mud around her. "Fluttershy? Darling? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine…" she replied. Not a moment later, a tear escaped and flowed down her face. She shut her eyes to stop more of them.
"Fluttershy, you are not fine. What's wrong?"
Rarity looked at her friend compassionately. She could easily deduce what was upsetting the pegasus, and it was painful to see her in such a state. "Fluttershy…"
"Fluttershy, don't apologize for your feelings."
Fluttershy was silent.
"Darling, it's been about a week and a half. I know it hurts, but you must try to move on. You can't spend your whole life letting this eat away at you. This is the first time I've seen you since we were in Canterlot."
Fluttershy visibly winced at the mention of the grim event. She took a deep breath, trying not to start crying again.
"I want to…but I can't get over it…" she said in a voice barely above a whisper.
"Well, that's why we're here now. It's why I've been throwing myself into my work."
Fluttershy frowned in response.
Rarity continued to talk as they exited their mud bath and proceeded to the relaxing waters of the regular baths.
"The day after, um, that day," she said, choosing her words tactfully, "I didn't even have any orders to work on. I had no work lined up and could've taken the entire day off. But I didn't. I spent the day coming up with glorious designs and simply doing what I love. Working at the boutique is something I adore, and the work I do there helps ponies everywhere look all the more fabulous."
They settled into the baths, washed off the mud and then stepped into another, larger bathtub. They relaxed in its warm waters.
"And I'm not the only one. Rainbow Dash has been spending her time practicing. I always see her flying through the air, trying new things or working on the weather. I daresay I've seen her smile on more than one occasion. I'm sure she's not completely forgotten about everything that's happened, but she is trying to move on, like I am.
"Likewise, I haven't seen very much of Applejack, but I know that it's because she's been working on the farm. She's pouring herself into what she loves to do, and so is her family. I think little Apple Bloom's even been helping out wherever she can. Just like how Sweetie is helping me out. She really does enjoy helping me.
"And then there's Pinkie Pie. While she doesn't quite have that trademark mane of hers back yet, she's returning to the Pinkie we all know and love. Although I really can't stand that mane…I think it looks so much better when it's down. But anyway, she's working at Sugarcube Corner and every day, it seems, her mood improves. Her mane is acting like a slowly inflating balloon. While not exactly visually charming, I know that it means she's feeling better.
"Do you see what I mean, darling?" Rarity said, wrapping up her tirade, "It's not going to do anypony any good to be sulking forever. It's simply not a good way to show respect for those we've lost." She smiled comfortingly. "I know you and I didn't get to meet Luna very many times, but I know that she adored your personality and hated to see you upset."
Fluttershy gazed at Rarity with her azure eyes. Rarity smiled and, after a moment, Fluttershy smiled back. Rarity's own smile grew at the sight.
"You're right, Rarity," Fluttershy spoke, "I'm sorry I've been so depressed."
"Oh, darling," Rarity responded, "There you go apologizing again."
"I'm sorry. It's just so difficult. I keep thinking about what's happened and…I just can't stop the sadness."
"Fluttershy, what have you been doing since we came home from Canterlot?"
"Um, well…" she paused, "Nothing really. I sit at home or I sit in the garden, maybe go for a short walk around my house."
"Haven't you been taking care of your animal friends?"
"Oh, of course!" she suddenly piped up, "Just, you know, not as much…only when they really need me."
"Well, how do you feel when you're helping them out?"
Fluttershy paused, and then smiled slightly. "I guess I feel happy. I almost forget about…"
"You see, darling? Exactly like the rest of us! Just spend time doing what you absolutely love! It'll all get better, I promise!"
Fluttershy gave a bittersweet smile and thanked Rarity for her kindness. The two sat in the waters for a few more minutes, simply enjoying the wonderful feeling of soaking in them. It was warm and therapeutic, and the waters had a very calming and soothing effect.
"Say, Rarity…" Fluttershy spoke up, "You told me about what you're doing and what all of our friends are doing…but you didn't mention Twilight."
"Oh, well, she's been…" Rarity trailed off and wore a confused expression. "You know, now that you mention her, I haven't really seen her lately. I think I saw her in the market once, but…"
They both sat in silence, thinking about their friend.
"Do you think she's just doing what everypony else is doing?" Fluttershy spoke, "Maybe she's been studying a lot,"
"That's a good presumption. It's probably safe to assume that's what she's doing," Rarity responded.
"Well, I just hope she's okay…"
"Oh, you know her. Once she buries herself in books, she's in an entirely different world. She might even be healing faster than the rest of us."
"But she was much closer to her than we were…"
"Well," Rarity responded with a hint of sadness, "you're right about that. She was pretty shaken up, wasn't she?"
Fluttershy hung her head, remembering her own reactions to the news and to the funeral.
"Um…what about everypony else?" she said, trying to move the conversation forward.
"Oh, well, I think everypony's doing okay. They're all doing their jobs and living their lives. Miss Doo's delivering the mail, I saw Lyra playing her lyre in the park. They're all dealing with it in their own way, but I think they'll all be fine."
Rarity glanced over to Fluttershy. "Just like you'll be fine. Right, darling?"
Fluttershy smiled meekly and looked away.
Finally, they both felt like the bath had lasted long enough and so they stepped out. Rarity levitated over some towels and handed some to Fluttershy, who thanked her. They dried themselves off and Rarity wrapped one of the towels around her mane. Rarity was about to continue the conversation when Aloe suddenly burst through the door.
"OHMIGOSH! Come! Quick!" she shouted.
"Aloe! Darling, whatever is the matter?" Rarity asked, surprised, "You look as if you've seen a ghost."
Aloe started mumbling incoherently. "Can't believe it…in the spa…"
"Aloe, calm down. What's going on?"
Aloe took a deep breath, stared Rarity straight in the eyes, and exclaimed, "Rainbow Dash is in the Spa!!!"
Not a moment was wasted as the three ponies dashed through the doors and made their way to the lobby as quickly as they could. Even Fluttershy was rushing. The air inside the spa was frantic and wild.
Finally, the three reached the lobby and beheld the sight before them. There, standing just inside the doorway, was a very confused and uncomfortable looking Rainbow Dash.
"Uhhhh…" she ventured, "Hi?"
Nopony else could speak. They were all staring, disbelieving.
"Is everypony all right?" Dash asked, "Why are you all staring at me like that? Stop it! It's freaking me out."
Rarity finally found her voice. "I never thought I'd see the day! Rainbow Dash is in a spa!!"
"Um, yeah…I am…" she said cautiously, "Woo…"
Rarity blinked a few times. "Am I dreaming?"
Dash shook her head, "Look, I just came to see if I could borrow or buy some soap. I completely ran out and this place was closer than the store. I'm not here for," she paused and looked at the towel on Rarity's head, "…that."
This seemed to snap Aloe out of her trance. "Oh! Soap! Of course! Is there any particular kind you want? Any aroma you'd prefer?"
Dash stepped up to the group of three. "Um…soap. You know? The kind you use to clean yourself?"
Aloe stared blankly for a moment before turning to Rarity with a questioning look. A look that said, She's your friend. You deal with her.
"Umm…" Rarity faltered. "Get her some Dove I suppose."
Aloe shrugged and walked back through the doors leading into the spa.
"I need soap, not a bird," Dash deadpanned.
Rarity nearly facehoofed, but decided against something so unladylike. "Dove is soap."
"Um…no. A dove is a bird. I think I know birds. I'm a pegasus, you know."
Rarity sighed. "The soap is called Dove. It's a brand name."
"Really? Why's it named after a bird?"
"I believe it's because the feathers of a dove are the softest feathers there are, and the soap is very smooth."
"Soft and smooth aren't the same thing."
Rarity sighed again. "It's just a name, Rainbow. Don't put so much thought into it."
Dash shrugged. "All right, as long as it's soap." She glanced behind Rarity and noticed Fluttershy for the first time. "Oh! Hi Fluttershy! I haven't seen you since…" she trailed off.
Fluttershy hid herself behind her mane. "I'm sorry…I've been feeling a little down…"
"But you're better now?"
"Um, I guess…Rarity told me about how everypony's been focusing so hard on their jobs…"
Dash smiled. "Yeah…I've been putting in a lot of practice time. It's great. It washes away all of the negative energy. Maybe you should try it."
Fluttershy squeaked. "Oh! No! Um, I mean, no thank you…I'm perfectly happy on the ground…but all of you are right. I need to spend more time with the animals. It'll help take my mind off of things. It worked for you and Rarity, and for Pinkie, Applejack and Twilight."
Dash smiled and nodded. Then she frowned. "Twilight? What's she been doing?"
"Well we haven't seen her outside," Rarity replied, "so we assume she's been studying."
"Oh…but you don't know for sure?"
"No, I suppose we don't. Why?"
"Well, I dunno. She was hit pretty hard, and I just hope she's okay. Maybe I should go see her."
Rarity smiled. "Certainly! You go do that and be sure to tell us how she's doing. We would go ourselves, but we still have more to do here at the spa. Ah! Here's your soap."
Aloe re-entered the lobby, carrying two boxes on her back. Rarity used her magic to transfer them from Aloe's back to Dash's.
"Thanks a lot," Dash said, fishing out some bits for payment. "This pigeon soap is good, you say?"
Rarity wore a sour expression. "Dove."
"Dove, right. Well as long as it works. All right, thanks a lot Aloe. Nice to see you Rarity! You too Fluttershy! See ya around!" Dash said as she turned to leave.
"Give our regards to Twilight, would you?" Rarity called after her.
"You got it!" Dash said before stepping out the door and taking to the air. Fluttershy and Rarity briefly marvelled at her ability to keep two boxes of soap balanced while she flew before turning to each other, smiling, and returning to the interior of the spa.
"She seems to be doing quite well," Rarity commented.
Fluttershy nodded. "She hates being sad anyway, so it's not surprising."
"Say what you will about that brash pegasus, she has grace and poise when she needs to use it. I can barely keep two boxes balanced without using magic."
Fluttershy giggled. "Hearing you describe Rainbow Dash with the words 'poise' and 'grace' is pretty funny."
"Why Fluttershy! Was that a giggle I heard?" Rarity said good-naturedly. She smiled. "Keep at it darling. You'll be back on your hooves in no time!"
Fluttershy blushed and hid behind her mane.
The magnificent structure of the Golden Oaks Library, which also happened to be a tree, was difficult to miss. From a distance, it looked like a tree that had gotten lost and found itself in the middle of the small town. However, up close, one could clearly see its intention as a fully functioning library and house.
Dash alighted in front of the front door, having dropped off the boxes of soap at her house first. She had decided not to enter from the balcony, not knowing exactly what to expect inside the unicorn's house.
Rainbow Dash walked up to the door and knocked on it a few times. A couple of moments passed before the door opened to reveal Spike.
"Hey Spike!" she greeted the small dragon.
"Oh, hey Dash!" he replied, smiling. "What's up?"
"Not much. I just thought I'd check up on you two. Haven't seen you in a while."
Spike stepped back and allowed Dash to enter. Inside, Dash saw the library in its usual state: books strewn haphazardly across the floor. Somepony had been studying.
"How've you been, Spike?" Dash asked after Spike closed the door.
"Not too bad." He paused. "It took some time to get over…it, but I think I'm okay now."
Dash smiled warmly. "Well that's good. Glad to hear it."
"It still sucks, but…" he shrugged.
"Yeah," Dash replied, rubbing the back of her neck.
"How have you been?"
"I've been doing pretty good. Workin' on lots of awesome tricks, getting lots and lots of practice in!"
Dash then glanced around the library. Despite the telltale signs of an intense study session, the purple bookworm was nowhere to be seen. Dash briefly wondered if she was buried somewhere under a pile of books.
"So, uhh…" Dash started, "Where's Twilight?"
Spike's expression fell. He sighed and threw his thumb over his shoulder, pointing it at the door leading to the basement. "She's been spending all of her time down there…"
Dash's gaze fell on the door. It was closed tight.
"She says she's studying down there," Spike continued, "but she doesn't take many books down. She comes out to eat and sleep and she went into town once. A couple of nights she's fallen asleep down there…"
Dash stepped tentatively towards the door. "Doesn't she tell you anything beyond 'I'm studying'?"
Spike shrugged. "She doesn't really feel like talking and, well, to be honest I'd been kinda grumpy for a while." He looked to the floor sheepishly. "I'm better now…"
Dash waved a hoof absentmindedly. "Don't worry 'bout it. I was like that too. But the rest of us have been kind of worried about her. Can I go see her?"
Spike shrugged again. "She didn't say anything about not disturbing her, so go ahead, I guess. I gotta go anyway. I just noticed that we're out of parchment and a certain owl didn't pick any up…"
Rainbow Dash had been about to step through the door when she turned to Spike with a confused expression. "Spike, Owlowiscious is an owl…how is he supposed to buy parchment? He sleeps in the day."
Spike open his mouth to reply, but nothing came out. Dash snickered at his lost expression. "Good to see ya Spike," she said, turning and opening the door.
"Good to see you too," the purple dragon replied before quickly heading out the library's door.
Dash descended the stairs into the library's basement. It was darker than the ground floor, but Dash could see a source of light coming from the bottom of the stairs. She could also hear an indistinct noise. It sounded like somepony speaking, but the voice was not Twilight's.
She reached the bottom of the stairs and looked into the relatively large basement. Gnarled, twisting roots stretched from the dirt walls and hung above the room as an odd, natural decoration. At the bottom of the two flights of stone steps was the room itself, which was filled with all manner of scientific equipment. There were large machines, devices attached to wires, and a few computers. All of these were currently turned off.
The only thing in the room that was active was the television. TV's were still fairly new on the Equestrian market and not many ponies had one. A few in Ponyville had TV's, including the Mayor. Whenever important news was broadcast on the TV, everypony without access to one was free to use the Mayor's to see it.
However, Twilight's was slightly bigger than the Mayor's. It also had a slightly higher picture quality. From what Dash had heard, it had been a gift from Celestia.
Dash examined the scene before her in the dark room. Only one of the lights was switched on, so most of the ambient light came from the TV. Twilight sat in front of it, watching it intently. There were a few loose scrolls with writing and diagrams on them. A quill pen, dripping with ink, hovered above the parchment, illuminated by Twilight's magic. She seemed to be unaware of Dash's presence and had an intense look of concentration.
Dash's eyes glanced up to the screen. She was instantly confused and concerned. On the screen was a recording of Luna's funeral. The sounds of Fallen Poet's speech filled the room as the video replayed her part in the event. Dash frowned upon seeing Luna's open casket again. Earlier emotions were returning to her.
Dash watched as Twilight paused the footage, stared for a moment, and then pushed some buttons. The video moved backwards frame by frame, slowly.
"Uhhhh, Twilight? What're you doing?"
Twilight visibly jumped, her quill clattered to the table. She whirled around, startled. When she saw that it was only Rainbow Dash, she exhaled and closed her eyes. "Don't do that, Rainbow Dash. I nearly jumped out of my skin…" She took a moment to catch her breath.
Dash glanced up at the screen again, studying the frame Twilight had stopped the footage on. Nothing looked out of place. She saw the large crowd - she even managed to find her own rainbow mane - the speaker, Fallen Poet, and Luna in her casket. Dash hadn't even known that the funeral was being recorded.
"What…what're you doing?" she repeated.
"Oh, um…" Twilight stammered, "I was just looking at…something"
"Why are you watching this?"
Twilight said nothing as Dash stepped up beside her. They both gazed at the screen for a few moments. Dash could feel emotions she hadn't felt for a while now welling up in her again. Seeing the body of the princess once again was threatening to bring up fresh tears.
"What do you see, Dash?"
Dash glanced at Twilight incredulously, finding her question awfully random. "What?"
"Tell me what you see."
Dash turned her attention back to the still frame. "Well what do you think I see? I see all the ponies on the stage. That one is speaking, I forget her name. Celestia's back there, her mane is looking terrible. There's a huge crowd and I can even barely see the seven of us." She paused, swallowing. "And I see Luna in her casket." At the word 'casket' her voice cracked slightly. She turned to Twilight, suddenly agitated. "Why?! What am I supposed to see?"
Twilight's eyes widened. "Calm down, Rainbow. I'm sorry."
Dash turned away. "Damn it, Twilight. What're you doing?" she asked for the third time.
"I'm sorry, Dash. I didn't mean to upset you. I was just…I was just looking at something unusual, that's all," Twilight replied.
Dash took a few deep breaths to calm herself.
"I'm sorry…" Twilight repeated.
Dash shook her head. "No, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you," she said, "Everypony's been worried about you. We haven't seen you, and now I find out you're doing…this. I'm a little frazzled."
Twilight frowned. "Oh…I didn't mean to worry everypony. I guess I should go see them."
Dash returned her gaze to the unicorn. "Everypony else has been doing pretty well, you know. Well, except Fluttershy, but she went to the spa today with Rarity and I think that helped."
"Really? Well that's good to hear. I was a little worried about Fluttershy."
"I think she's gonna be okay," Dash replied. There was a pause. "I dunno what to think about you though…"
Twilight shook her head. "Really, Dash, I'm fine. I'm sorry for worrying everypony. I just didn't realize how much time I was spending down here. Tell you what, I'll go see everypony right now. I'll have a nice chat with them all. Just give me a few minutes to get everything put away."
Dash smiled. "Now that sounds like a great idea! All right, Twilight. Go see everypony else first. They're all worried about you. We can talk later."
"Sounds like a plan!"
Dash turned to the steps and began to climb them. "All right, Twilight," she said while ascending, "I'll see you around!"
Twilight waved her hoof. "Bye, Rainbow Dash! Nice to see you!"
Rainbow Dash stepped out of the basement and closed the door behind her. "All right…" Dash muttered, "That was a little weird, but at least she seems okay." As she exited the library, she analyzed the scene in her head, wondering what Twilight had been doing.
As Rainbow Dash walked away from the library, Twilight was still in the basement. She made to collect all of her notes but found herself looking at what she had written. She turned to the screen again and stared.
Without realizing what she was doing, she began watching the video footage again. She moved through the frames slowly, her original objective immediately forgotten by her study-oriented brain.
The door to the basement opened again some time later. It was Spike, who had already completed his errands. "Twilight?!" he called down, his voice echoing into the underground room, "Are you still down there?"
"Mhm…" came Twilight's distracted reply.
"Rainbow Dash said you were out with your friends."
This shook Twilight out of her trance. "Ohmigosh! I totally forgot! I got so focused on…Augh…"
Spike reached the bottom of the basement stairs, glancing at Twilight's workstation. His expression twisted into confusion. "I thought you said you were studying down here."
Twilight gathered up her notes, successfully this time. "I am studying," she replied plainly.
Spike stared up at the screen. "Studying what exactly?"
"Stuff," she replied absentmindedly, trying to get everything cleared and organized.
Spike gazed at the screen for a few moments. "They were filming that?"
"Yeah," Twilight responded, "Didn't you notice the cameras?"
Twilight looked down at him. "Oh…sorry."
Spike continued to look at the screen. "Have you seriously been spending more than a week down here just looking at the recording of the funeral?"
"No…" Twilight began.
"That's a little…unnerving."
"I haven't just been looking at the recording…"
"Well what the hay are you doing?"
Twilight paused, glancing between Spike and the screen. She seemed to be contemplating a response.
"Spike," she finally said, "Look at it. I'm sorry if it upsets you, but look at the screen. Just look for a minute."
Spike sighed and climbed onto the desk using a nearby stool. From this better vantage point, he stared intently at the screen for a minute or two.
"What do you see?" Twilight asked, repeating the question she had asked Rainbow Dash.
Spike appeared confused by the question. "What am I supposed to see?" he responded before listing off the same things that Rainbow Dash had said earlier. "Nopony is there that shouldn't be, nopony is missing…I don't get it."
Twilight stepped up beside him. Spike glanced at her while she gazed at the still frame. She seemed to squint her eyes.
"It's just…" she said quietly, "I'm not even sure if it's anything, really. I noticed it when I was there, and I was just…" she trailed off.
"Huh?" Spike was confused. "You're not making any sense …"
"Something's…off. Something's just…not right."
The two sat in silence for a moment.
"Ummm…" Spike was visibly puzzled. He returned his gaze to the screen. "Off?"
"Every time I look at this something doesn't feel right. I can never see exactly what it is; it's like I can't put my hoof on it. I just…something is not right."
Spike stared for a few more minutes before shrugging. "It looks fine to me," he replied, "Look, Rainbow Dash was right. You should really go talk to your friends. Just maybe don't mention…this…"
This snapped Twilight out of her reverie. "Oh! Right, I was heading out. Thanks, Spike. I might've been down here another hour!" she said with a chuckle.
With a sense of finality, Twilight got all of her notes and equipment packed up and organized. She then flicked a switch, turning the television screen off, and began to ascend the stairs, levitating her supplies behind her. Spike trailed her.
"Are you sure you're all right, Twilight?"
"I'm perfectly fine, Spike. And don't worry, I'm going to figure this out, and then we can all forget about it."
"If you say so," Spike said worriedly, "Just don't go over the top. Again."
The two reached the top of the stairs and closed the basement door behind them.
"Don't worry Spike. I've learned my lesson about over-studying. I just…you know…need a little reminder sometimes."
Spike rolled his eyes. "Riiiight…"
Twilight put down her notes on a table and proceeded to step out the door. "I'll be back later after I see everypony! Watch the library please!"
"Can do!" Spike replied and waved goodbye. Moments later, the front door closed and Spike was alone in the library.
The young dragon turned around and walked towards the kitchen. On the way there, however, he took notice of where Twilight had deposited her notes. "Ugh, the dining table? Really? For a pony who's so organized, you really…ugh," he muttered.
Spike reached up and retrieved the notes, intending to place them on another, less food-oriented table. As he carried them over, he couldn't help but notice what Twilight had written on the top-most page. Spike was not one to pry into Twilight's studies, but she hadn't exactly hidden them and it was hard to miss the writing when he was carrying them.
"Whoa…she mapped out the whole stage. Look at all these diagrams…"
His curiosity grew as he turned to the next page. He was greeted with a huge list of spells and their effects, many crossed out with large X's.
"Twilight…what are you doing?" he muttered, worriedly, "What do you see that we don't?"